Evidence and perceptions of rainfall change in Malawi: Do maize cultivar choices enhance climate change adaptation in sub-Saharan Africa?

Getting farmers to adopt new cultivars with greater tolerance for coping with climatic extremes and variability is considered as one way of adapting agricultural production to climate change. However, for successful adaptation to occur, an accurate recognition and understanding of the climate signal by key stakeholders (farmers, seed suppliers and agricultural extension services) is an essential precursor. This paper presents evidence based on fieldwork with smallholder maize producers and national seed network stakeholders in Malawi from 2010 to 2011, assessing understandings of rainfall changes and decision-making about maize cultivar choices. Our findings show that preferences for short-season maize cultivars are increasing based on perceptions that season lengths are growing shorter due to climate change and the assumption that growing shorter-season crops represents a good strategy for adapting to drought. However, meteorological records for the two study areas present no evidence for shortening seasons (or any significant change to rainfall characteristics), suggesting that short-season cultivars may not be the most suitable adaptation option for these areas. This demonstrates the dangers of oversimplified climate information in guiding changes in farmer decision-making about cultivar choice.

Regional Environmental Change, 16; 1215-1224